Twenty-two years ago today, 18-year-old Angie Raye Dodge was killed as she slept in her upstairs apartment in the sleepy town of Idaho Falls, Idaho.
At the time of Angie’s murder, DNA had become a household term thanks to the spectacle that was the O.J. Simpson murder trial in Los Angeles. Simpson’s 1995 acquittal should have awakened every investigator in the country as to the importance of DNA evidence, and the collection and handling thereof. But some still slept.
Idaho Falls Police Department
The police were overwhelmed with the investigation. None of the investigators in their small agency was prepared for the complexity of such a case, nor were any of them experienced to any significant degree in the field of homicide investigation. One of the two lead detectives, Jared Fuhriman—no relation to LAPD’s infamous Mark Fuhrman (note the different spellings)—had been a school resource officer (SRO) and had almost no investigative experience at all.
During the course of their investigation, the police had focused on 20-year-old Christopher Tapp. Without going into great detail, the detectives coerced a false confession from Tapp by violating every single principle and law regulating interrogations and confessions, using threats of force and promises of leniency. Tapp foolishly trusted Fuhriman, as he knew him well from Fuhriman’s days as an SRO. Tapp eventually confessed to being present when the crime was committed, and then later confessed to having taken a small part in the actual murder. He would later recant his confession.
The problem with the confession was that Tapp never provided a single detail of the attack, the crime scene, or any other pertinent part of the case, that the investigators hadn’t first introduced to him.
The bigger problem—for investigators—was that the killer had ejaculated on Angie’s body, and Christopher Tapp was not the donor of that DNA source. There were several additional sources of DNA identified from trace evidence left at the scene, and each of those DNA profiles was attributed to the same donor as that of the semen.
In 1989, author Joseph Wambaugh published “The Blooding,” a true crime book which chronicles the details of the first time DNA was used to solve a murder. In 1986, 15-year-old Dawn Ashworth left her friend’s home in the small village of Narborough, Leicestershire to walk to her nearby home in the village called Enderby. She never arrived home and after two days of searching, her body was found between the two villages. There had been another murder two years prior, that of 15-year-old Lynda Mann. Police worked on the theory that both crimes were committed by the same individual. Both girls had been raped.
During the course of that investigation, police focused on a 17-year-old boy who seemed to know more about the murder of Ashworth than the general public had been told. He was soon considered a suspect. He confessed to the killing and then later recanted his confession. He had always denied killing the first girl; it was the second murder to which he confessed. The boy was charged with the murder of Dawn Ashworth.
In that case, the police contacted Alec Jeffreys, a British geneticist who had recently developed “genetic fingerprinting,” a result of his discovering a way to show variations between individuals’ DNA. Jeffreys was asked to assist in the investigation of the two murders. He did, and he was able to determine that both girls were killed by the same offender, and that person was not the boy who had confessed and been charged. DNA ultimately solved that case. I won’t spend more time on that case here, but it is a fascinating story and I highly recommend The Blooding.
Similar to the case in England, investigators homed in on the wrong man in Angie Dodge’s murder. A friend of Christopher Tapp had been arrested in Nevada for rape, and Investigators rightly shifted their focus onto him, and Tapp. But during a series of interrogations with Tapp, they coerced a false confession from him. The police lied to Tapp and told him that his friend had not only confessed to killing Angie, but that he had also implicated Tapp in the murder.
For hours Tapp adamantly denied being involved until investigators assured him that if he cooperated and admitted he was there, he would go free. Tapp began confessing, being led by police and agreeing to whatever they told him had happened. They even told him he had likely suppressed his memory of the terrible incident, but he should trust them because they would be able to prove he was there and he would get the death penalty.
However, while these confessions were being obtained, tests revealed that the DNA collected from the crime scene did not belong to Tapp or to his friend who had been arrested in Nevada. Rather than seeing they were on the wrong track, the cops decided there must have been a third person at the scene, and it was this third person who was the donor of the DNA. They would never admit to being wrong, and they were blinded by their egos and inexperience.
At the time of this writing, the police have still not found a match to the DNA evidence left at the scene.
The Crime Scene
For an experienced homicide investigator, it is difficult to believe there was more than one suspect at the crime scene. There has never been a shred of physical evidence to link anyone else to that small room, and it is unreasonable to believe that three people could be involved in such a violent murder without leaving evidence of their presence behind.
But the more their case fell apart, the harder the police ramped up the pressure on Tapp and insisted that he tell the truth about who was really with him, who the “third” person was.
Angie’s case was a sexual murder. It is a very rare occurrence that more than one offender is ever involved in that type of case. The police are convinced that there is a drug connection. I have never seen a sexual component involved in a drug hit, nor have I heard of any such occurrence. Remember, someone came into her apartment in the middle of the night and attacked her as she slept.
Lastly, on this topic, it has been 22 years. If three people were involved in this murder, and especially if it had been drug-related, there is no way possible that the three of them kept this a secret. Many people would know about the killing, and in those 22 years, someone would have used that knowledge to avoid going to prison on other matters. That is guaranteed.
Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Three can keep a secret if two are dead.”
A Travesty of Justice
Eventually—and even more dumbfounding and quite frightening—Tapp was convicted of Angie Dodge’s murder by a jury of “his peers” in Idaho Falls. All of the tainted evidence against Tapp was allowed into the trial, yet prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence including videotapes of the coerced confessions.
The Idaho Innocence Project
It was nearly twenty years later when the Idaho Innocence Project began fighting on Tapp’s behalf. In doing so, they stirred somewhat of a hornet’s nest in Eastern Idaho. By now, the infamous Jared Fuhriman had moved on from the police department to become the mayor of Idaho Falls, and then retired.
Interestingly, Fuhriman now claims to suffer from memory loss and says he is unable to recall any parts of the Tapp investigation.
The appellate courts refused to hear new arguments in the case as all appeals had been previously entertained. But with the Idaho Innocence Project fighting for Tapp, the media began to swarm, and the small town and its dirty little secret became national news.
A Cold Case Investigation
My involvement stemmed from being hired by a New York-based production company that set out to make a documentary about the case. I was tasked to conduct a cold case investigation while they produced their show. The production team was enthusiastic about solving the case, but unfortunately, their budget did not allow for a complete reinvestigation. Once the production was completed, I no longer had a client and was forced to move on with a lot of work left to be done.
Tapp was released from prison during the time we were investigating this case. The state offered him a deal which gave him his freedom but allowed the state to never admit he was wrongly prosecuted and convicted. It was clearly a move designed to extinguish the media firestorm without admitting fault and to protect the city from liability.
There were numerous mistakes made by the police from the onset of their investigation. That is understandable, given the lack of experience they have to draw from. The tragic part is that in light of the evidence and theories presented by true experts and experienced investigators, the Idaho Falls investigators still refuse to recognize their errors and admit their faults.
To this day, the authorities in Idaho Falls will swear that Tapp was there that night as Angie was killed, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
This blog is but a snapshot of a complex case and its tragic course. A book could and perhaps should be written on the matter. (No, I have no intention of writing it.)
If you care to watch the documentary, it is now airing on the Starz network, and it is called Wrong Man. Several cases comprise this series, and the Angie Dodge case has not yet been aired as of the time of this writing. I have not seen it and I have no idea if it is good or not, though I suspect it will be interesting if nothing else.
UPDATE: The case is now solved — READ ABOUT IT HERE
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